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South Wales 'Metro' updates

Envoy

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I thought it would be worthwhile to start a discussion on the South Wales 'Metro'. Basically, this is the scheme to enhance transport links across south east Wales. One of the key issues that needs to be addressed is what form of transport will be used on the Cardiff Valley lines network - including the lines to Penarth, Barry & Bridgend via Rhoose (Cardiff Airport) & Llantwit Major. Some are suggesting electric trains whilst others are suggesting trams.

Media Wales press reports:>

http://i2.walesonline.co.uk/incoming/article8630056.ece/ALTERNATES/s615/Metromain2.jpg

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/business/business-news/you-need-know-south-east-9557564

Sion Barry said:
It's one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Wales but what exactly is the South East Wales Metro?

It will be one of the biggest infrastructure projects delivered by the Welsh Government and over the long-term could be a £2bn scheme creating 7,000 new jobs and £8bn of additional economic value.
So what is the Metro

Well the industry refers to as a multi-modal integrated rapid network across South East-Wales.

Say again!

Okay, so it will firstly be about the electrification of the Valley Lines and providing quicker and more frequent services across the Valleys and in and out of Cardiff.
How much will that cost and where is the money coming from?

Well it could be achieved, particularly if an all tram network, for between £500m to £600m.....
 
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rf_ioliver

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Trams for long distance commuting seem to be in fashion at the moment.

But putting that aside for the moment, you already have heavy rail in place in South Wales with the plan for electrification, so the most sensible and ready solution would be to buy a suitable set of high-acceleration EMUs.

Now there are places where a tram-train solution might be easily, e.g.: Porthcawl where much of the trackbed has been lost for example, but to be honest every time I hear the word 'tram' I cringe...I'm waiting for someone to suggest that we have trams on HS2 :)

Ian
 

steevp

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Now there are places where a tram-train solution might be easily, e.g.: Porthcawl where much of the trackbed has been lost for example, but to be honest every time I hear the word 'tram' I cringe...I'm waiting for someone to suggest that we have trams on HS2 :)

Ian

Um there may have been some of that here

http://www.railforums.co.uk/showthread.php?t=117583

(albeit with the pros and cons sensibly discussed)
 

Solaris

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Trams for long distance commuting seem to be in fashion at the moment.

But putting that aside for the moment, you already have heavy rail in place in South Wales with the plan for electrification, so the most sensible and ready solution would be to buy a suitable set of high-acceleration EMUs.

Now there are places where a tram-train solution might be easily, e.g.: Porthcawl where much of the trackbed has been lost for example, but to be honest every time I hear the word 'tram' I cringe...I'm waiting for someone to suggest that we have trams on HS2 :)

Ian

On core valleys HR is restricted to ~14tph through Queen St.... with LR you could get >26tph. This would allow at least 4tph to all the HoV, Coryton and potential extensions off the Rhymney line (eg Treharris, NE Cardiff). That is just not remotely possible with HR. When you add faster journey times and lower capital costs for putting wires up.....

Tram train brings too much cost/overhead and is mired in difficulties in Sheffield... why build a hybrid vehicle at higher cost when you can run LR
 

gareth950

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The report on BBC Wales Today on this on Tuesday night specifically mentioned removing the bottleneck around Queen St so that frequencies across the valleys network could be increased.
This surely would involve widening the Newport Rd bridge to allow it to accommodate 4 tracks, and widening the bridges between Queen St and Central station over the SWML to 4 tracks.

Is that realistically going to happen?

More analysis here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-33231668
 
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Solaris

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The report on BBC Wales Today on this on Tuesday night specifically mentioned removing the bottleneck around Queen St so that frequencies across the valleys network could be increased.
This surely would involve widening the Newport Rd bridge to allow it to accommodate 4 tracks, and widening the bridges between Queen St and Central station over the SWML to 4 tracks.

Is that realistically going to happen?

More analysis here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-33231668

No - far too expensive and disruptive, esp when there is a much more cost effective solution. Constraint of Queen St is for Heavy Rail (due to safety and signalling standards/capability) - the same infrastructure could support 24 LRVs/trams per hour in each direction (uses line of sight signalling). Just need to take plunge and go for comprehensive LR conversion north of Queen St.
 

LNW-GW Joint

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To me this is complete fiction.
You can't have a project to electrify the current Valley lines for heavy rail, while musing about whether trams wouldn't be better (eg at Queen St).
The disciplines and operation are completely different (eg Network Rail would deliver a train solution, while somebody else would do a tram solution).
Massive issues like signalling, layout and integration with non-Metro services will need to be solved before a spade is turned.
NOTHING will happen until a decision on tram v train on the current network is made.
Nobody is going to run trams on the main line to Ebbw Vale or Maesteg, are they?
I see the Metro is described as Phase 2. What was Phase 1?
 

Solaris

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To me this is complete fiction.
You can't have a project to electrify the current Valley lines for heavy rail, while musing about whether trams wouldn't be better (eg at Queen St).
The disciplines and operation are completely different (eg Network Rail would deliver a train solution, while somebody else would do a tram solution).
Massive issues like signalling, layout and integration with non-Metro services will need to be solved before a spade is turned.
NOTHING will happen until a decision on tram v train on the current network is made.
Nobody is going to run trams on the main line to Ebbw Vale or Maesteg, are they?
I see the Metro is described as Phase 2. What was Phase 1?

We are some way from spades in the ground I would say - so these are all relevant questions and your points above all valid and need to be addressed/considered. There is a window of opportunity now open to reflect/plan so that the appropriate solution is implemented

Cant see VOG, EV or Maesteg being LR - all plugged into main line and/or carry too much freight.

Phase 1 was/is I believe the capacity enhancement and new stations on the Ebbw Valley line...
 

Tumbleweed

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Didn't the minister say new rail schemes will be announced this year? Or did I dream it?
 

MarkyT

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Tram train brings too much cost/overhead and is mired in difficulties in Sheffield... why build a hybrid vehicle at higher cost when you can run LR

The Sheffield project is not 'mired' at all even if timescales have slipped. It is a pilot project and carries all the headaches of developing the rules and standards for UK application of the concept, already well proven in Germany and France. Once one project has been completed the knowledge gained, the technical standards and rule book changes developed, can be transferred to accomplish others with much less risk. For the current Valley Lines network I agree a conventional HR emu is probably the right answer, but for future network extensions, tram-trains built for high platforms might provide an elegant solution that could interrun with the emus on the core network, whilst permitting some more lightly built and cheaper branch extensions. Pure isolated light rail would be impractical currently for the Valleys with the remaining freight operations and through running to and from the main line for certain passenger services.
 

Solaris

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The Sheffield project is not 'mired' at all even if timescales have slipped. It is a pilot project and carries all the headaches of developing the rules and standards for UK application of the concept, already well proven in Germany and France. Once one project has been completed the knowledge gained, the technical standards and rule book changes developed, can be transferred to accomplish others with much less risk. For the current Valley Lines network I agree a conventional HR emu is probably the right answer, but for future network extensions, tram-trains built for high platforms might provide an elegant solution that could interrun with the emus on the core network, whilst permitting some more lightly built and cheaper branch extensions. Pure isolated light rail would be impractical currently for the Valleys with the remaining freight operations and through running to and from the main line for certain passenger services.

Not sure I agree....
There are real technical and institutional challenges with tram train. Yes Sheffield will eventually deliver a solution but with a vehicle with a higher unit costs than a traditional LRV. On core valleys yes you could run some tram train - but operating on a HR network with its signalling capacity via CASR of perhaps 14/15 tph through queen street it is still some way short of the >24tph you can achieve with LRVs. When you consider the enormous costs/disruption of a 25Kv HR electrification LR for core valleys north of cardiff begins to look far better value for money.
The 4/5freight paths a day can be accommodated on a LR network with bespoke signalling/procedures as is the case wit the Newcastle Metro.
 

MarkyT

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Not sure I agree....
There are real technical and institutional challenges with tram train. Yes Sheffield will eventually deliver a solution but with a vehicle with a higher unit costs than a traditional LRV. On core valleys yes you could run some tram train - but operating on a HR network with its signalling capacity via CASR of perhaps 14/15 tph through queen street it is still some way short of the >24tph you can achieve with LRVs. When you consider the enormous costs/disruption of a 25Kv HR electrification LR for core valleys north of cardiff begins to look far better value for money.
The 4/5freight paths a day can be accommodated on a LR network with bespoke signalling/procedures as is the case wit the Newcastle Metro.

This 14/15tph claim through Queen Street seems an extraordinarily low frequency limit for an urban heavy rail system, when Thameslink aims for 24tph and LULs subsurface network is planning for up to 30+ even with its plethora of flat junctions.

From a Heavy rail perspective, what you describe on the Tyne and Wear Sunderland line is effectively tram/train although with high platforms unlike the Sheffield example. In the T&W case the signalling is NR heavy rail standard with TPWS (unusually) at every signal, and overlaid with Metro's Indusi protection system so collision risk is drastically reduced. The power system is the lower voltage DC used on the T&W network. The arrangement allows freights as well as local DMU services to share the same tracks with the Metro.

The vehicles on T&W Metro are a German high floor tram derivative of the 'Stadtbahn B' series, which below the floor is identical to vehicles used on partly street running high-floor light rail networks in Germany, but with some lower body skirting panels removed and with a different cab front design lacking the excellent all-round front visibility required for street operations, also clearly without all the street legal light clusters required.

In Cardiff the signalling would be the same as now but with TPWS at every signal, and the power supply 25kV throughout, hence such light vehicles on the defined shared network could interrun with standard emus and diesel or electrically hauled freights. In time when the main line network migrates the light metro could also upgrade to a ETCS based signalling system.

With lighter, higher performance tram based light rail vehicles, any future extensions and branches of the core valleys network might be engineered more cheaply, with steeper gradients and tighter curves, but a compelling reason for the light rail vehicles ordered specifically for such new branches having the additional street side skirts, road light clusters and better visibility cabs (whilst otherwise being technically identical to your 1st gen non-street light rail units) would be to allow some low speed locally monitored level crossings at stations and elsewhere, some non fully segragated streetside reservation running, and even some shared street running with road traffic or in pedestrian areas (although I would keep street running to an absolute minimum for reliability).
 
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Solaris

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This 14/15tph claim through Queen Street seems an extraordinarily low frequency limit for an urban heavy rail system, when Thameslink aims for 24tph and LULs subsurface network is planning for up to 30+ even with its plethora of flat junctions.

From a Heavy rail perspective, what you describe on the Tyne and Wear Sunderland line is effectively tram/train although with high platforms unlike the Sheffield example. In the T&W case the signalling is NR heavy rail standard with TPWS (unusually) at every signal, and overlaid with Metro's Indusi protection system so collision risk is drastically reduced. The power system is the lower voltage DC used on the T&W network. The arrangement allows freights as well as local DMU services to share the same tracks with the Metro.

The vehicles on T&W Metro are a German high floor tram derivative of the 'Stadtbahn B' series, which below the floor is identical to vehicles used on partly street running high-floor light rail networks in Germany, but with some lower body skirting panels removed and with a different cab front design lacking the excellent all-round front visibility required for street operations, also clearly without all the street legal light clusters required.

In Cardiff the signalling would be the same as now but with TPWS at every signal, and the power supply 25kV throughout, hence such light vehicles on the defined shared network could interrun with standard emus and diesel or electrically hauled freights. In time when the main line network migrates the light metro could also upgrade to a ETCS based signalling system.

With lighter, higher performance tram based light rail vehicles, any future extensions and branches of the core valleys network might be engineered more cheaply, with steeper gradients and tighter curves, but a compelling reason for the light rail vehicles ordered specifically for such new branches having the additional street side skirts, road light clusters and better visibility cabs (whilst otherwise being technically identical to your 1st gen non-street light rail units) would be to allow some low speed locally monitored level crossings at stations and elsewhere, some non fully segragated streetside reservation running, and even some shared street running with road traffic or in pedestrian areas (although I would keep street running to an absolute minimum for reliability).

All sounds good/reasonable - the real issues that will influence the final solution I think are:

The CASR capacity of 14/15tph (or even 16tph as originally intended). I take your point re other examples - but for whatever reason this is what is operationally expected for Cardiff (someone please challenge?). This does not really provide the foundation for higher frequency services and extensions across the region

The actual costs/disruption of a traditional 25Kv electrifications (esp the major civils required!) and availability of stock - given NR troubles and major overruns of other NR wiring projects this would seem to be the biggest risk - and a major reason to seriously consider a lighter touch and less disruptive/expensive 750v/1500v LR scheme.

Lets see what unfolds on this....
 

Envoy

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Valley Lines will remain heavy rail as will Ebbw Vale & Maesteg, the Bay and extensions to the NE of Cardiff seem to be only real candidates for light rail.

I agree, Maesteg & Ebbw Vale would definitely remain 'heavy' rail - though hopefully with some new electric trains like the Hitachi AT200's doing the run. (Scotland have placed an order for these for commuter lines in the central belt).

By extensions to "NE Cardiff", I think you mean NW Cardiff (Cregiau). If the valley lines are wired to 25Kv , you surely can't get a 750 volt light rail system into Cardiff Central from any proposed 'Cregiau line'. Even if it were possible to have a light rail 750 volt system on the City Line - which would have a spur for the Cregiau line coming off it; you would not be able to divert trains coming down from the Taff Valley line at Radyr onto the City Line in the event that the line via Llandaff (north) were closed.

An additional problem of having a 750 volt light rail /tram system would be that if the Barry > Rhoose > Llantwit Major > Bridgend route was light rail, you would not be able to divert the Hitachi Inter City Expresses via this route in the event that the main line was closed. (The Hitachi Express trains for the London to Swansea run will be all electric apart from one diesel powered coach to enable the train to limp along and provide Air Con in the event of a power failure. The odd hybrid Hitachi Express may also operate on those services that go west of Swansea).

Another problem of light rail on the Cardiff Valleys to VOG Coast routes would be crash worthiness due to the presence of heavy freights such as coal trains going to Aberthaw Power Station.

To be honest, it is regrettable that the Cardiff Bay branch does not go from Central but only links Queeen Street with the Bay - where it falls short of the waterfront as it terminates at the ramshackle station on Bute Street. I think that such a link is best served by the present bus service. A lot of cost digging up streets for a tram service that would give little if any gain.

Another problem with having the present Cardiff Valleys rail system linked via street trams would surely be that the trams would not be able to keep to the rigid schedules that we have with a segregated rail system. You can turn up at valley line stations and usually find that the trains are running to the minute. This does not happen with buses and I can't see it happening with trams. Besides, central Cardiff is so compact, why bother to have street trams when it is all just a short walk from Queen Street & Central Stations? Then you have the additional problem of infrastruction such as gas and water running under the streets.

http://www.hitachirail-eu.com/at200-for-scotland_141.html
 
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The plan to run light rail to the bay is very unambitious. The Metro map shows the line running to the Wales Millennium Centre and that's it. There's an opportunity to connect the bay with the city centre and Penarth Marina and the sports village.

There's also nothing planned for Pontprennau and all the new housing developments around there which will desperately need decent transport links.

Still, good to hear something about the scheme as I wasn't convinced anything was being done behind the scenes in the WG and a 2017 start date isn't too far away.
 

TheKnightWho

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The brown line connecting the northern ends of the current Valley lines seems particularly ambitious!
 

Envoy

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The brown line connecting the northern ends of the current Valley lines seems particularly ambitious!

Yes, I noticed a brown line linking Hirwaun with Treherbert. Goodness knows what kind of transport they have in mind as the two places are separated by a 2000ft mountain! Still, I do expect a lot of people in Hirwaun would like to visit Treherbert!

One of the more sensible links seems to be to have a reinstated rail line from Caerphilly to Newport. (The single track from Newport to the Machen quarry is still in place).
 

rf_ioliver

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Yes, I noticed a brown line linking Hirwaun with Treherbert. Goodness knows what kind of transport they have in mind as the two places are separated by a 2000ft mountain! Still, I do expect a lot of people in Hirwaun would like to visit Treherbert!

One of the more sensible links seems to be to have a reinstated rail line from Caerphilly to Newport. (The single track from Newport to the Machen quarry is still in place).

Then reinstate the Bedlinog line, branch off at Nelson and route back to Abercynon via Treharris, now you've Pontypridd-Caerffili-Newport :) IIRC, this was put forward as a plan not too many years ago.

The other possibility is to link Hirwaun with Glynneath again, though how you sort out the Neath end with the link to the GWML I don't know. Could be a nice diversional route - not sure if an HST has even wandered up the valley lines.

t.

Ian

ps: I hear Treherbert is lovely in the summer :)
 

Envoy

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The plan to run light rail to the bay is very unambitious. The Metro map shows the line running to the Wales Millennium Centre and that's it. There's an opportunity to connect the bay with the city centre and Penarth Marina and the sports village.

There's also nothing planned for Pontprennau and all the new housing developments around there which will desperately need decent transport links.

Still, good to hear something about the scheme as I wasn't convinced anything was being done behind the scenes in the WG and a 2017 start date isn't too far away.

As no former rail lines run to the NE (Pontprennau) part of Cardiff, it would be very difficult to provide rail links. It is regrettable that Cardiff's planners did not provide better links with M4 J30 (Cardiff Gate) with NE suburbs such as Lisvane. (People in Llanishen, Thornhill & Lisvane have to drive on a ridiculous route through Pontprennau in order to reach J30).

With regard to the Sport Village / Bay Pointe development, to reach this via a tram or other link from the Mermaid Quay area would require an expensive bridge over the Taff. The Cardiff Bay Development Corporation (back in the 1980's), permitted the demolition of a rail bridge and allowed building on a former rail line in the Ferry Road area near IKEA. This now blocks any transport link coming into this part of the Bay from Grangetown station.


However, what could be done for relatively little cost is a pedestrian link from Cogan Station to the Pont-Y-Werin footbridge thus giving direct access to the valley lines network for the Sport Village / Bay Pointe development. A new station on the Penarth Branch by Cogan Tesco would serve the Penarth Marina area as well as the Sport Village/Bay Point via the Pont-Y-Werin footbridge. (Another goof-up by the CBDC - placing a Tesco by what should have been a rail halt with P&R). Unfortunately, the border between the VOG & Cardiff Council's runs through the Ely and neither set of bureaucrats seem to be talking to each other or Network Rail about what is best for the travelling public. (The sooner they reinstate the one single County of South Glamorgan the better).http://www.cardiffpointe.co.uk
 
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MarkyT

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Unfortunately, the border between the VOG & Cardiff Council's runs through the Ely and neither set of bureaucrats seem to be taking to each other or Network Rail about what is best for the travelling public. (The sooner they reinstate the one single County of South Glamorgan the better).

That's a problem with the boundaries of many urban unitary authorities throughout UK. These are often in fairly arbitrary positions in modern land use terms within fairly dense peripheries of the greater city region, whilst real travel to work (or leisure) patterns have absolutely no respect for such political divisions.

In larger towns and smaller cities, park and ride schemes with high frequency subsidised express bus services often terminate in a field just inside the unitary boundary whilst big settlements a couple of miles away over the border end up with a two-hour frequency subsidised service that's 'under review' by the cash-strapped adjoining rural authority. There is no statutory joined up thinking mechanism for public transport crossing such boundaries and nothing will heppen unless the neighbouring authorities deliberately elect to work together. Unfortunately such an urban/rural authority boundary often coincides with a party political divide, which doesn't encourage such dialogue and economically the adjoining rural authority might see subsidising buses into the nearby city as taking jobs and business away from their own fiefdoms. This issue, amongst many others, was a major flaw in the way the UK set up unitary authorities.
 

Solaris

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If there is to be any Light Rail there are some lessons from the more successful UK systems....

  • Avoid as much as possible new on street sections (eg Edinburgh) because of the higher costs and risks and instead focus on converting existing HR where it is better suited to LR (as in Manchester)
  • You need a network with sufficient economies of scale from the outset - so sufficient farebox to support the higher frequencies of LR ops. Experience suggests 15-20km with >10 stations and PAX of >5M is a basis to progress.

So a Cardiff Bay - City Centre LR route on its own (too small) or NW Cardiff (too expensive to start with) or on street in city centre (again too expensive to start) are not really practical. As per above comments, some or all of core valley lines north of Queen St and the current bay line are far better candidates for a complete conversion to LR. Short station spacing and current service frequencies/new stations constrained by HR application. The proposed 25Kv electrification looks too expensive/disruptive and it doesn't provide anymore network capacity.

Instead the current rail infrastructure could support more frequent & faster LR services and enable new stations and short extension all based within the current rail corridor. Higher LR frequencies generate more demand at lower unit costs. LR 750v or 1500v electrification is likely to be lower cost and less disruptive than 25kv - and you get a lot more output for your money.

With such in place more ambitions "extensions" would be more deliverable in later phases (eg NE Cardiff - which would be impossible in HR terms)

A LR approach north of Queen St would though, at least initially, prevent through running of HR from VoG to valleys and vice versa for LR from valley lines. VoG, EV and Maesteg always HR (VoG because of freight and IEP)

Also - to note there is a 3rd unused span on the current VoG HR bridge over the river ely.....
 
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Envoy

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Media Wales are today reporting that the Welsh Government are not planning any new stations until AFTER electrification. They just don't get it - that you plan and build your new stations first and that doing it the other way around will cause massive disruption with a substantial increase in costs.
http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/fears-raised-over-plan-build-9590726


QUOTE: "We don't want to make a hash of it'
Welsh transport minister Edwina Hart created further confusion last week when, speaking about the next five years of Metro investment, she told the BBC: “It’s up to local authorities to look at what they require in terms of stations.”

Just six months ago, councils finalising their five-year Local Transport Plans were told by Mrs Hart’s officials not to include any rail schemes

John Rogers, chairman of campaign group Railfuture South Wales, said: “If you suddenly decide after electrification that you want to put a station platform somewhere, elements of the electrification system might have to be expensively moved".
 

RP

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Yes, you would think it would make financial sense, at least to make passive provision.

The article also mentions the current redoubling of the Ebbw Vale line. There is the huge additional cost of installing the 10 miles of parallel track, signalling and a second platform at two stations, which could have been provided within the original reopening, though politicians will argue they could not have foreseen the high usage of the line and expenditure exceeded the original estimate.

It was closed on 4/5 July to slew the track on curves where there was a more generous easing of the curvature in 2007; more work is planned for next weekend, with the inconvenience of rail replacement buses! And there's more infrastructure to deal with, already causing some local complaints in some areas!
 

Envoy

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I would have thought that a new station on the relief lines in east Cardiff - perhaps at St.Mellons - would have been a priority in view of the main line now being electrified. If this had a park & ride, it would mean that residents of east Cardiff could catch say a Bristol or Cheltenham bound stopper to Newport in order to change for express services going further into England. Thus, such people would not face the dilema of having to go in the wrong direction into Cardiff Central in order to go east or face the longer & congested journey into Newport. Thus, both Cardiff & Newport counties would benefit from a reduction in traffic. Of course, such a station would also enable commuters to travel west to Cardiff Central & beyond. By not taking action on this now, it looks like the opportunity will be lost for years.

Regarding the Valley Lines network, I would have thought that an extension from Aberdare to Hirwaun should be made prior to electrification taking place. Likewise, on the City Line in Cardiff west, a station to serve the new development on the Ely Mill site should have priority - especially as it looks like the increased population are going to be imposed onto the present overloaded local road network. (A pity a new road was not built through this site to act as a by-pass for Lansdowne Road & Broad Street).
 
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anthony263

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With electrification I do think new stations in Cardiff at Ely Mill/Bridge on both the city line and south wales mainline along with new stations at Adamstown and St Mellons on the relief lines.

A new station at Crwys Road/Albany road on the Rhymney line is also another opportunity
 

MarkyT

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The article also mentions the current redoubling of the Ebbw Vale line. There is the huge additional cost of installing the 10 miles of parallel track, signalling and a second platform at two stations, which could have been provided within the original reopening

I drew the signalling scheme plan for the Railtrack singling scheme of the then freight only line in the mid 1990s. I recall it was a bit of a rush job driven by track condition and a desire to close the two signalboxes at Lime Kiln Sidings and Aberbeeg at the old double track extremities. The line was reduced to a simple single track section throughout from Park Junction to Ebbw Vale South Ground Frame (the old entrance to the steel plant), using either TCB with axle counters or a token system (I forget which now). The scheme allowed large quantites of ageing signalling equipment to be removed, including some redundant facilities for collieries and other industries long closed. Here's the old layout at Lime Kiln: http://www.signalbox.org/diagrams/limekilnsdgs1986.jpg

The passenger reopening installed only as much double track as was required for the planned hourly service. Even that was generous covering a 5km section encompassing two stations rather than a simple short single station loop that wouldn't have been so resilient. With the Ebbw Vale extension I note the turnrounds at the new terminus are a rather tight two minutes typically. I hope further doubling to accommodate a more frequent services might also allow a more resilient 5 minutes or more layover to be included here.
 

Envoy

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I drew the signalling scheme plan for the Railtrack singling scheme of the then freight only line in the mid 1990s. I recall it was a bit of a rush job driven by track condition and a desire to close the two signalboxes at Lime Kiln Sidings and Aberbeeg at the old double track extremities. The line was reduced to a simple single track section throughout from Park Junction to Ebbw Vale South Ground Frame (the old entrance to the steel plant), using either TCB with axle counters or a token system (I forget which now). The scheme allowed large quantites of ageing signalling equipment to be removed, including some redundant facilities for collieries and other industries long closed. Here's the old layout at Lime Kiln: http://www.signalbox.org/diagrams/limekilnsdgs1986.jpg

The passenger reopening installed only as much double track as was required for the planned hourly service. Even that was generous covering a 5km section encompassing two stations rather than a simple short single station loop that wouldn't have been so resilient. With the Ebbw Vale extension I note the turnrounds at the new terminus are a rather tight two minutes typically. I hope further doubling to accommodate a more frequent services might also allow a more resilient 5 minutes or more layover to be included here.

My understanding is that the original intention was an hourly service linking Ebbw Vale with Newport but Network Rail/Arriva said that they could run a service to Cardiff more easily than Newport & that the Newport link would follow at a later date. (I could not understand this as it looked to me that the Newport link was already in place).

Anyway, what happened was that the Cardiff service started & proved so popular that they had to use 4 coach Sprinters. Presumably, this will now remain & that a Newport service - possibly then running up the Marches as a stopper to Abergavenny - when rolling stock becomes available. (A new station at Caerleon would surely prove popular in view of the difficult road connections with the M4. It would also encourage tourists to visit the Roman remains).
 

MarkyT

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My understanding is that the original intention was an hourly service linking Ebbw Vale with Newport but Network Rail/Arriva said that they could run a service to Cardiff more easily than Newport & that the Newport link would follow at a later date. (I could not understand this as it looked to me that the Newport link was already in place).

The original concern was platform capacity at Newport. The new service started before the extra platform was provided under the station rebuild. so although a reversal was possible in the bidirectionally signalled 2 & 3, almost all other services were also using these platforms and the track layout between Gaer Junction and the station didn't allow a movement across all tracks into rarely used platform 1, not that it would have been desirable in any case. After the station rebuild took place with it's weird silvery slug like footbridge as you say the Cardiff service was already such a great success that even though now possible, the journey time effects of a re-route to reverse in and out of Newport would have been unpalateable. The ironic thing is that if the Newport reversal had been there from the start (maybe costing what 10 minutes max?) then the service would probably have been just as popular to Cardiff, with significant additional business at Newport for the city as well as potential interchange traffic to England and the Caerleon/Pontypool/Abergavenny areas. The difficulty of the two trains in the expanded service going two different ways at the southern end is that the service attractiveness benefits of greater frequency won't apply. You'll still only have hourly from Cardiff and you'll only get a new hourly from Newport. I think Arriva should bite the bullet and return to Plan A, running the whole expanded service via Newport - reverse - fast to Cardiff. Yes there'd be some initial PR pain over the extended journey, but the whole service should become more useful and popular in the long run. Only by doing this is it realistic to also serve a reinstated Six Bells/ Abertilery branch from Aberbeeg with the second hourly service, because otherwise each valley could only serve one southerly destination and if the two trains were evenly spaced interval across the hour, an unattractive wait of 30 minutes would be required at some unmanned intermediate station to get to the other destination.
 

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